Understanding the Psyche of Bar & Restaurant Guests Upon Reopening

Many businesses are right now focused on the immediate financial and emotional toll of being shut down due to the ongoing pandemic. Others are starting to prepare a new plan of attack mapped against what the new normal may look like after mandated stay-at-homes are eased or lifted. Everything from guest experience, operations, food & beverage, and technology has to be rethought.

Datassential recently published a consumer insight report listing the results from a survey asking participants to rank their comfortability being in different public settings. While bars and nightclubs rank fairly low on the overall list, dining-in at restaurants came in on the upper tier of options.

On a second question asked, a very positive sign for our hospitality industry was respondents listed the number one location they were most excited to get back to was ‘Dining At My Favorite Sit-Down Restaurant’. This was ranked higher than sporting events, shopping, and coffee shops.

Ensuring guests come to and feel comfortable requires bars and restaurants to mitigate the risk factors until a sense of normalcy is returned. The comfortability curve will only come with time and on-premise locations can use a few of the tips below to make sure they are addressing the new guest experience:

  1. Mask may be worn by everyone: While the effectiveness may be debatable, the CDC still recommends wearing a cloth face-covering in close proximity to others and wherever social distancing cannot be maintained. Staff and bouncers should have written rules in place for handling ID checking and ensuring proper usage. The mayor of L.A. has announced that any private business may refuse service for patrons that are not complying with covering their face and making it required for food workers. 
  2. More open spaces:  Previous seating charts and capacity numbers may not be able to return to previous levels right away. Even if the local governments do not halve capacity as we saw in NYC for a short period, guests may still want to avoid crowded dining rooms. They may want to be connected and together but not at the expense of being seated right next to someone.
  3. Technology upgrades: Non-contact options will be the standard with RFID chip readers and/or the ability to use one’s own device to order and pay. Machines will also be on the rise and think of salad vending machines that went into hospitals and the hamburger flipping-robot may see more interest. Kiosks may see a dip in usage if they are not cleaned after each interaction and guests may revert back to preferring employees to ring them up.
  4. Elevated OSHA rating: Businesses that cannot maintain six feet of social distancing could see their level of risk increased under new guidelines. Operators will have to think of their bar or restaurant with the same mentality a doctor’s office does. Protective equipment and cleaning supplies will need to be in ample supply. 
  5. Perception of cleanliness: Those familiar with the Schrodinger's cat paradox will understand the conundrum that we have to treat everyone like they both have the virus and do not have it.  Guests will want to see gloves, masks, and surfaces being wiped down on a regular basis. Reusing cups, silverware, etc. might need to be rethought in the short term. Before bars and restaurants shut down, many switched to single-use options including even paper menus.
  6. Delivery and takeout apps mainstream: The explosive adoption of third-party service was not due to COVID-19 as it was already a growing trend. The pandemic was, however, a catalyst and many laggards that hadn’t yet adopted the technology are now well versed in operating it. Businesses will need to factor in the economics of 3rd party fees, designated pick-up areas, and menus that features items that travel well.

Using the downtime during mandated closures may be an opportunity to prepare venues from a physical layout, invest in technology to limit physical interaction, and create standard operating procedures for staff to understand how to operate in the new normal.